Assessing mathematics
with Numbas

DMV-ÖMG Jahrestagung 2021

Christian Lawson-Perfect

Newcastle University

A beach crowded with people. There is a lighthouse in the far distance


An open-source e-assessment system designed for mathematical subjects.

Developed at Newcastle University for >10 years.

Used around the world (und ins Deutsch übersetzt!)

Key features

  • Randomised questions.
  • Easy to use and accessible.
  • Adaptive behaviour.
  • Customisable everywhere.
  • Lots of maths features.

Question types

Math notation
Prompt text says 'differentiate the following function: f(x) = minus 3 x squared minus 2 x plus 10'. An input box contains 'minus 6x minus 2', and is followed by a rendering in mathematical notation and a green tick
Prompt text says 'write 1234.567 in continental European style. An input box contains '1.234,567' and is followed by a green tick.
Prompt text says 'write a 3 × 3 identity matrix. Beneath are inputs labelled 'rows' and 'columns', and then a grid of inputs containing the entries of a 3×3 identity matrix, followed by a green tick.

Question types

Multiple choice
Prompt text says 'Tick each mammal'. Beneath are checkboxes labelled 'sparrow', 'shark', 'dog' (ticked) and 'cat' (ticked)', followed by a green tick. Prompt text says 'Select pairs of numbers that add up to 4. Beneath is a grid of checkboxes; the upper triangle is empty. The columns and rows are both labelled 1,2,3. 1,3 and 2,2 are ticked. The grid is followed by a green tick.
Short text
Prompt text says 'Write a headline in title case'. An input box contains 'Numbas Marks Answer Correctly', followed by a green tick.
Make your own
Prompt says 'Convert 240cm to metres'. An input box contains '2.4m', followed by text 'Include units in your answer' and a green tick.
A question of two parts, both consisting of prompt text followed by an input box, a button labelled 'Submit part', some feedback text and a score
A Numbas exam presented in German.
A question about group theory, containing diagrams of a labelled tree. The question prompt at the bottom says 'What are each of the leaves mapped to under the action of the word a b g a d?'
The Numbas editor

Modes of use

A fixed list of questions
Student picks which questions they want to try
Adapts to student's performance
Student picks their own path through an activity

Our use pre-Covid

Large banks of practice material.

In-course assessment: open for one week, worth 1-5% of module.

Some labs: students enter measurements; Numbas marks calculations.

One or two invigilated, final exams.

Our use in lock-down

High-stakes assessments for many maths modules, as well as large service courses.

Hybrid exams: some automatically marked, some marked by hand.

How to do it

  • Large question-writing team.
  • Think creatively about assessing hard topics.
  • Check everything very thoroughly in advance.

Have a look at

An H5P exam containing an embedded Numbas exam

Geschichte der Mathematik by Andreas Vohns.


Numbas homepage:


How Numbas can help during the COVID-19 crisis:

E-Assessment in Mathematical Sciences conference:

Newcastle University